MLK Day brings little observance in Aspen
January 12, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Aspen banks, schools and public offices are closed today to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but otherwise, the national holiday barely resonates in the homogenous ski town.While area students study King’s human rights legacy, there is nothing planned for the public. It’s a situation members of Aspen’s African-American community acknowledge, and one they accept. “I don’t think it means a lot up here,” said Howard Stoner, a longtime Snowmass resident.With just a small percentage of African-Americans in the area, Stoner said, the holiday is not so much on people’s minds, and there is no “core gathering” in the valley.He believes King’s ideas are alive and well in Aspen, and the lack of activity on the holiday honoring King is about “the makeup of the community.”People look at the day as simply a day off, a way to extend a vacation – or a hassle because of increased bookings, Stoner said. He hasn’t experienced outright discrimination in Aspen for years, he said, adding he doesn’t go looking for it, and simply doesn’t pay attention to prejudice.
Johnni Alderfer, a longtime antiques dealer in Aspen, remembers a celebration of poetry and music honoring King in the past. She had hoped to take part in it once more, and said it might be time to start the celebration up again.”There’s never been a large black population here,” she said. “And I don’t think about discrimination. … It’s home. It’s been a great community to raise a family.”Alderfer added there is more discrimination against Latinos in the area.Lee Harris, a hairdresser who goes by the name of Mr. Lee professionally, has lived in Aspen off and on for eight years. Today’s holiday is like so many others to most: just a day off work or when the bank is closed, Harris said.”I don’t think I really feel discrimination here,” Harris said. He called Aspen a place where people come to begin their lives and reinvent themselves, whatever their ethnicity.”A person has to be really comfortable with who they are to even move a place where they are a small minority,” Harris said.
“If every place in the world had their own version of Martin Luther King, we would not be in the predicament we are in today,” Harris added.Mawa Sidibe remembers her surprise when she moved to Aspen from France six years ago: “I didn’t see any black people. I thought I would see more black people than in France.”But people don’t see color in Aspen, she said: “They don’t see difference.”She doesn’t face discrimination here – but she finds it frustrating her accent makes some locals think she’s from Jamaica, she said.”The town doesn’t care about Martin Luther King’s birthday,” she said. She said she joked with her boss this week, “Are you going to pay me double for working on Monday, it’s black people day.”There’s a lot of black people who have money,” Sidibe said. She believes the Aspen Skiing Co. marketing department does not target African-Americans, which she finds frustrating: “I want to see more people than just white people here.”
“Because of what [King] did, I am able to come to Aspen and work and be like everybody else,” Sidibe added.Emzy Veazy III has had “no experience” of celebrating Martin Luther King Day during the years he has been coming to Aspen.”It’s a national holiday, but people don’t respect it,” he said.”There’s a disconnect in the black community in Aspen,” Veazy said. While African-Americans in other areas form strong communities, there is no unity in Aspen, he said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.